When raising a child, the future is normally something everyone looks forward to. When that child is on the autism spectrum, however, the future seems quite scary, with many unanswered questions.
In their graduation film Mm-Hmm, co-directors and animators Martha Halliday and Hannah McNally illustrate a small moment in the life of Mary, a single mum raising her autistic child, Joel. The audio is done in documentary style, simply a conversation between Mary and Joel. They go over their morning routine of getting Joel dressed and ready in the mornings, and talk about Joel’s dreams for the future, “I want to be a grown up man with the hoover.”
This talk about the future brings Mary to express her fears for the future. Could Joel ever have a real job? What would happen to Joel if something were to happen to Mary? Though these are just hypothetical situations, they are very real concerns that clearly are a part of her day to day life just as much as getting Joel ready is.
While the audio in Mm-Hmm is largely driven by Mary and is filtered through her stories and her questions to Joel, the animation is presented almost as if it is through Joel’s eyes. He teeter-totter’s his way through getting dressed and his daily activities, hoovering around the rim of the teacup his mother has just poured for him. Aside from Mary’s commentary, we get a different insight on how difficult life can be for Joel, best demonstrated by making him miniature. He struggles to put his full focus on getting a biscuit for his tea, only to end up dropping it on the counter.
Perhaps the most touching, and potentially worrisome, is the film’s ending. Mary asks Joel if he would ever want his own house one day, to which he replies, “No, I want to be with you. I don’t want you going away,” during which he offers her half of his biscuit. The love they share for one another is palpable, but this just makes the questions for the future all the more frightening.